Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mexican Pork Carnitas/Pulled Pork (with a little help from my pressure cooker)

I have often given credit to my mother for forcing teaching me how to cook, ever since I was a little girl. Most of the recipes she taught me how to make were from her German (Bavarian, to be specific) origins. To this day, my siblings request that I make her Austrian Goulash and homemade spaetzle, at least once a year.

There is another side of my ancestry, from my father's side, that I closely identify with.  My father is from Spanish descent with a bit of American Indian blood.  One of my fondest childhood memories, is visiting my "Nana" on her small ranch and enjoying a breakfast plate of her homemade refried beans and homemade flour tortillas.  Served with eggs, over easy, and a bowl of salsa-- my father and I would eagerly dig in.

Shortly before my father passed away, we traveled south to spend Thanksgiving with my aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Our Thanksgiving spread had all the traditional turkey and side dishes. But, there were also large pans of traditional Mexican food. One of my uncles made his famous pork carnitas and I was truly smitten, at first bite.  The flavor of the pork, tender on the inside, and crunchy on the outside-- wrapped in a corn tortilla with just a bit of cilantro... I will always remember that particular Thanksgiving as one of the best holidays gatherings (my father passed away a year later).

Since then, I always wanted to recreate my uncle's Pork carnitas, and this recipe fulfilled a long-time desire to do so.

Carnitas can best be described as pulled pork. Traditionally, the pork is braised with oranges and aromatics (such as bay leaves, cumin and oregano). Once the tender meat is "pulled", it's then deep-fried to give it that delectable crunchy texture.

America's Test Kitchen, as usual, delivered a more contemporary way of recreating pork carnitas, without deep frying the meat.  

The cut of pork used is a pork-butt, cut into 2-inch chunks.  To the pot, we add salt, pepper, cumin, bay leaves, and lime juice, orange juice and the orange halves.

Next, we add about 2 cups water-- to just barely cover the meat.  In a Dutch oven, this is brought to a simmer and then placed into the oven for about 2 hours.
SHORTCUT:  If you've been following my blog for a while, you would know that I'm a huge fan of pressure cooking.  I didn't want to wait 2 hours, so I use my electricpressure cooker.  In 35 minutes, set on high, the pork was fork tender!  Win!

I removed the pork, and "pulled" it apart with a fork.  The remaining liquid was strained, and then reduced on the stove top until it became syrupy 

The suggested time given was 8-12 minutes-- it took closer to 20 minutes to reach that stage. The syrupy liquid is then poured on top of the pork and folded in to coat.  The pork is evenly distributed on a baking rack, setting over a baking sheet (I lined it with foil, for easier cleanup).  The broiler is turned on, and the oven rack is set on the lower-middle area.

The pork is broiled at this lower level, so that it will brown evenly.  If the rack was set on high, the very top of the meat would broil, but not evenly.  Here ya go!  The pork is crispy, and so flavorful! As a general rule, I don't really "pick" at eating food while I'm preparing it. As an exception, I kept popping a few pieces of the pork carnitas and relishing the crispy and tender texture.  So good!

You can also enjoy the pork carnitas in many ways-- in burritos or tamales.  I made my own corn tortillas, and my tacos were very simply put together, because I wanted the flavor of the pork to be front and center-- fresh cilantro, sliced radishes and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.  You can add guacamole, sour cream, red onion-- whatever suits you.

TASTING NOTES:  I think my uncle, rest his soul, would be very proud of my efforts.  These carnitas are going to be a part of my regular rotation.  America's Test Kitchen, once again, delivered a perfect recipe.  If you love Mexican food as much as I do, I am confident that you will love this recipe.

To me, a Mexican meal isn't complete without beans.  To complete this meal,  I made these Drunken Beans, and they were outstanding! Wow!  That recipe is coming up next.

A printable recipe is at the end of this post.

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Cathy at Wives with Knives said...

What a nice story, Debby. Those memories from childhood are so special especially when they involve family meal times. I love Mexican food and have no doubt that this is a delicious recipe. I could freeze it into meals-for-one portions. Broiling the pork is a step I've never tried. Can't wait to try it.

Big Dude said...

Your carnitas look outstanding Debbie and I like your technique. As much as we cook Mexican food, as much as we like pulled pork, and as many pork butts as I've cooked, we've never made carnitas and I don't know why - need to change that.

Lily Lau said...

Loved this post, Debby! Almost as much as I love Mexican food :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks again Debby. So many of your periodic posts fit my taste that I no longer have to do any meal planning. And freezing the majority of the larger recipes easily fills those non-posting days. Your carnitas methods, braised or via the P.C. look ideal and yes'm, I like carnitas. Thanks. You keep me well fed.
-Craig (the other one.)

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

Love the post not only for the delicious sounding carnitas but also for your family story.

Anonymous said...

A follow up for a few days ago: I made the carnitas. Turned out perfect and another permanent resident, here. You have nailed another one and thanks!
-Craig (The other one)